TCS: Kids and Our High Dangerous, Could Be Beautiful World

  Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
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No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy,
the kindness, and generosity hidden in the soul
of a child. The effort of every true education

should be to unlock that treasure.

– Emma Goldman

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I imagine that a lot of parents and teachers are struggling to talk to their kids and their students about the world – you can’t keep the bad from them – it’s all over the media, day after day after day. So how can adults help kids stay balanced on that “fine line of light” between realism and idealism – aware but not frozen with fear – confident and brave but not blind to the all-too-real threats out there?

Especially now, when good people are being unjustly attacked, because of the arrogance and greed of a very bad man, forced to defend their country and themselves as best they can, even an old woman with nothing more than a handful of sunflower seeds?

It should be no surprise that I’ve turned to three poets – who are also moms, writing about their fears and hopes for their children.

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Good Bones

by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.


“Good Bones” from Good Bones © 2017 by Maggie Smith – Tupelo Press


What I Carried

by Maggie Smith

I carried my fear of the world
to my children, but they refused it.

I carried my fear of the world
on my chest, where I once carried

my children, where some nights it slept
as newborns sleep, where it purred

but mostly growled, where it licked
sweat from my clavicles.

I carried my fear of the world
and apprenticed myself to the fear.

I carried my fear of the world
and it became my teacher.

I carried it, and it repaid me
by teaching me how to carry it.

I carried my fear of the world
the way an animal carries a kill in its jaws

but in reverse: I was the kill, the gift.
Whose feet would I be left at?

I carried my fear of the world
as if it could protect me from the world.

I carried my fear of the world
and for my children modeled marveling

at its beauty but keeping my hands still—
keeping my eyes on its mouth, its teeth.

I carried my fear of the world.
I stroked it or I did not dare to stroke it.

I carried my fear of the world
and it became my teacher.
It taught me how to keep quiet and still

I carried my fear of the world
and my love for the world.
I carried my terrible awe.

I carried my fear of the world
without knowing how to set it down.

I carried my fear of the world
and let it nuzzle close to me,
and when it nipped, when it bit
down hard to taste me, part of me
shined: I had been right.

I carried my fear of the world
and it taught me I had been right.
I carried it and loved it
for making me right.

I carried my fear of the world
and it taught me how to carry it.

I carried my fear of the world
to my children and laid it down
at their feet, a kill, a gift.
Or I was laid at their feet.


“What I Carried” from Good Bones © 2017 by Maggie Smith – Tupelo Press

Maggie Smith (1977 – ), the one who is not a famous British actress, is an American poet, freelance writer, and editor who lives with her husband and two children in Bexley, Ohio. Her poetry collections include Lamp of the Body; Good Bones; The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, winner of the 2012 Dorset Prize; and Disasterology.
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High Dangerous

by Catherine Pierce

is what my sons call the flowers—
purple, white, electric blue—

pom-pomming bushes all along
the beach town streets.

I can’t correct them into
hydrangeas, or I won’t.

Bees ricochet in and out
of the clustered petals,

and my sons panic and dash
and I tell them about good

insects, pollination, but the truth is
I want their fear-box full of bees.

This morning the radio
said tender age shelters.

This morning the glaciers
are retreating. How long now

until the space-print backpack
becomes district-policy clear?

We’re almost to the beach,
and High dangerous! my sons

yell again, their joy in having
spotted something beautiful,

 and called it what it is.


“High Dangerous” © 2019 by Catherine Pierce – published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets


If/When

by Catherine Pierce

The poem I planned to write
was about last week’s hurricane,

about how I live in Mississippi,
not that far from the storm’s rages,

and how even still we felt
nothing here, nothing at all.

That was going to be the ending,
because I wanted to make a point

about how easy it is to ignore
disaster when it’s not churning

directly over your town, and I was hoping
a reader might then extrapolate

a larger point about disturbance
and proximity, like how politicians

are always saying they used to oppose X
until some terrible Y happened

to their daughters, and it seems
to me we’re requiring an awful lot

from daughters these days. Sons, too.
This week a message from my kids’

school district included the phrase if/when
a lockdown is ever necessary
. The reason

I’m writing this poem instead
of the one I’d planned is that I keep

thinking about that email and also
now the hurricane was a week ago

and there’s a new disturbance
forming near the Bahamas. And

last night Sioux Falls was tornado-
shredded and in Sterling, Colorado,

egg-size hail pummeled windshields,
and I guess what I’m saying is, why bother

with a poem about one hurricane,
one email? There will be more,

and there will be more,
and there will be more until

there is nothing left. The thing
about the poem I was going to write

is that it would have been a lie.
That nonsense about how we don’t

feel it here. We feel it everywhere,
don’t we? Dear daughter, dear son,

dear someone’s something, we’re well
past the if and into the when.

Talk about proximity—
some days I wear the world

like a skin. I am tired of waiting
for extrapolation. Let us all

be disturbances now.


“If/When” © 2020 by Catherine Pierce – first appeared in The Southern Review


Catherine Pierce (1978 – ) was born in Delaware, but since 2007 she has made her home in Starkville, Mississippi, where she is professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. In April, 2021, she was appointed to a four-term as the Poet Laureate of Mississippi. Pierce received a 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and two Pushcart Prizes in 2019 and 2021. She has published four books of poetry: Famous Last Words; The Girls of Peculiar; The Tornado Is the World; and most recently, Danger Days.

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Will You?

by Carrie Fountain

When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.

I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself

saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one

of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.

That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,

and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took

that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns

to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children

are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still

a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work

for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about

everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines

would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much

later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three

Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.

And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—

and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote

WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.


“Will You?” © 2019 by Carrie Fountain, published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets


Time to be the fine line of light

by Carrie Fountain

between the blind and the sill, nothing
really. There are so many things

that destroy. To think solely of them
is as foolish and expedient as not 

thinking of them at all. All I want 
is to be the river though I return 

again and again to the clouds. 
All I want is to stop beginning sentences 

with All I want. No—no really all
I want is this morning: my daughter 

and my son saying “Da!” back and forth 
over breakfast, cracking each other up 

while eating peanut butter toast 
and raspberries, making a place for 

the two of them I will, eventually,
no longer be allowed to enter. Time to be 

the fine line. Time to practice being 
the line. And then maybe the darkness. 


“Time to be the fine line of light” © 2017 by Carrie Fountain, published in Poem-a-Day on October 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets


Carrie Fountain was born and grew up in New Mexico. She moved to Austin in 2001, and was appointed as the Poet Laureate of Texas in 2019. Her debut poetry collection, Burn Lake, published in 2010, was a National; Poetry Series winner. She has published a second collection, Instant Winner, a novel, I’m Not Missing, and a children’s book, The Poem Forrest.  She mentored students for a number of years at the St. Edwards University as writer-in-residence. Fountain has been honored with the Marlboro Poetry Prize and the Austin Library Foundation’s Award for Literary Excellence.

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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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